Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Kingdom is like...a man who sowed good seed in his field

The Kingdom is like…a man who sowed good seed in his field. (Matt. 13.24-30; 36-43)
 Have you ever been to a youth camp or youth retreat and just didn’t want it to end? The spirit of the camp was so alive and there was good Bible teaching and excellent worship music. You surrounded by good Christian friends and fellowship. You just didn’t want to go back home because you knew that when you returned you were going to be in a completely different environment. You’d be in an environment where you were surrounded with people who couldn’t care less about Jesus or the your commitment to follow him. In fact, they would do their best to discourage you.
Have you ever just looked around and seen people just steeped in evil or wickedness? Have you ever just wondered why God didn’t just remove them from the face of the earth? Or, at least, could God just remove them from your life?
I know of some people who have tried to do that in reverse, they withdrew out into a place in the country or the wilderness so they could live in community, love Jesus and each other and not be stained by the corruption of the world.
Unfortunately, that’s just doesn’t seem possible at this point. Or is it unfortunate? Maybe it is part of God’s plan? Perhaps there is a purpose for committed followers of Jesus to live in and amongst the people of this world, even those who are bent on doing evil.

Let’s look at Matt. 13:24-30.

Purpose of parables – About 1/3 of Jesus’ teaching is in parables. They can be proverbs (Luke 4.23), a riddle (Mark 3.23), a comparison (Matt 13.33) a contrast (Luke 18.1-8) and both simple stories (Luke 13.6-9) and complex stories (Matt. 22.1-14). Parables demand interpretation, they point to something else. There not just clever stories. They are ways in which Jesus tried to help people understand the kingdom. Jesus told these stories to confront people with the character of God’s kingdom and to invite them to participate in it and to live according to it. Jesus was calling his hearers to changed behavior and asking them to commit to being his disciples.
The primary focus of the parables is the coming of the kingdom of God and the resulting discipleship that is required. When Jesus proclaimed the kingdom he meant that God was exercising his power and rule to bring forgiveness, defeat evil and establish righteousness in fulfillment of the OT promises. In Jesus’ own person and ministry, these acts were happening, and the kingdom was made available to people. The kingdom comes with limitless grace, but it comes with limitless demand. As we have and will see, it is both present and still awaits fulfillment in the future.
This parable seems designed to answer the question “How can the kingdom have come if evil is still present?” The kingdom is present and growing even in the midst of evil, and judgment will take place in the future. Therefore, the kingdom invites both involvement and patience.

There seems to be an underlying issue with this parable that Jesus is addressing. Jesus has been preaching the kingdom and has been saying that the kingdom has come near and he has been displaying the power of the kingdom in his healings and exorcisms. These miracles have been displays of Jesus and his intent on attacking the power of Satan on his turf (prince of this world). They were visibly displaying that he has ultimate power over Satan. Thus and obvious question has to arrive: if the kingdom is near and Jesus (as the king) is more powerful than Satan, then why are we still surrounded by evil. Why are the wicked still among us?

The details of the parable
Jesus talks about a farmer who has sown wheat into his field. But an enemy sowed a type of wheat in his field while he was not aware. For a time, the wheat and the weeds looked very similar. It was hard to tell them apart. But when they started to sprout, it became obvious that there was something else among the wheat stalks. What the enemy of this farmer has sown was something called darnel. It looks very similar to wheat, but it does not grow as tall and its head is a different color. So, it takes a while before it is apparent that something else is in the field. The workers want to pull up the weeds but it seems that the roots become intertwined while they are growing. The farmer merely says let them grow until harvest and then the harvesters will separate the two. The wheat goes into the barn and the weeds get burned up.

So, the field did not turn out as he desired. He had sown good seed, but an enemy had sown weeds in the same field. The result was a mixture of wheat and weeds. The solution was NOT to be in an immediate separating of the two. For the time being the two were to be allowed to grow together, so that the field was not an ideal field. But, eventually, the wheat and the weeds would be separated.

On this occasion (and on one other) Jesus gives a point-by-point explanation of this parable. This parable becomes an allegory, where the elements of the story stand for a deeper meaning. Now, not every parable is an allegory, but this one is because Jesus makes it one.
                The elements
The sower          The Son of Man
Good seed          People of the kingdom
Field                   The world
Enemy                Satan
Weeds                People of the evil one
Servants              Angels
Harvest               End of the Age (Judgment)

Jesus is the Son of Man. What did he mean by calling himself that?
The good seed are the followers of Jesus. The followers of Jesus are not removed from the world. In fact, it seems that they are allowed to mingle in and amongst the people that belong to the evil one. And, it seems that Satan is active in putting his representatives among the people of Jesus.

I want to go back to our examples at the beginning. It seems that the original disciples themselves wanted to remain with Jesus and away from all of the influence of the wicked. We see Peter, James and John on a mountain and they get a glimpse of what Jesus is going to look like after his resurrection. Peter doesn’t want to leave. He wants to stay with Jesus and his friends for a while. He must know that when he comes down from the mountain, Satan and his representatives are going to be waiting for him.
Some of the disciples have a different reaction. They want the evil removed.
Luke 9:51-56.
Two of Jesus’ disciples want a village of Samaritans consumed with fire from heaven because they did not welcome Jesus properly.

God allows the righteous and the wicked to coexist at this time. Eventually there will be judgment and separation. But for now we need to live amongst each other.
Why didn’t God just take care of them when Jesus came and inaugurated his kingdom? Why wait?
Maybe it is because of God’s graciousness? Some in the early church were mocked because it seemed that Jesus was slow in returning and setting up his kingdom.
2 Peter 3.3-4, 9 – You must understand in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own desires. They will say, “Here is this ‘coming’ he promised? The Lord is not slow in keeping his promises, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
What we need to understand is that there is this timeline where the present (evil) age exists for a time along side the age to come. But ultimately, the present age will end when Jesus returns.

 God allows the righteous and the wicked to coexist in this age. But eventually he will eventually separate the wicked, judge them and punish them, while gathering the righteous together to be rewarded by enjoying his presence forever.

Now, knowing all of this, what should our response be?
One is realize that God is not going to pull us out of this world before Jesus returns. (Pre-Tribulation Rapture stuff?) We need to know that not only do we exist in and among people who belong to Satan, but it seems like Satan is active in not only aggravating believers, but he is also active in trying to prevent the Word of God from being spread (see Matt. 13. 19, …the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart.) We need to know that our battle is not with each other or even with the people that Satan is using to tempt and distract us. It is with Satan himself.  Paul gives us instructions to put on spiritual armor so we can stand against the devil’s schemes (Eph. 6.11-12).

Two, we need to realize that judgment is a reality. There will be a great separation of those who belong to Jesus and those who don’t. The fate of those who are not disciples of Jesus is grim. Jesus uses metaphors like being cast into darkness, and fire and separation. Whatever it is, we know that there is an eternity separated from God and the fellowship of his people for those who are do not belong to the kingdom.

Which leads us to three, we need to live like salt and light in the midst of these people. We shouldn’t long for separation, but we should long to be a positive influence on them so that they would long to be a part of the kingdom. It is interesting that Jesus uses the world as a field analogy here. He does it in several places.
In Matt. 9.37-38 – The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Immediately after that, we see Jesus sending his initial disciples (the 12) out into the world to carry forward Jesus’ message of the kingdom (10.7 – The kingdom of heaven has come near…). He sends them out because judgment is coming.
Jesus spoke of love and freedom and a release from bondage to sin and Satan, but he also spoke of judgment. The basis of that judgment was allegiance to Jesus the King. That should motivate us to be salt and light in this world (not to be taken away from it). We are to be salt and light. Salt in Jesus’ day was used as a preservation agent to keep meat from rotting. To be salt implies that this world is corrupt and dying and we need to be agents of preservation. To be light implies that this world is dark. Darkness often stood for evil and for those outside of the kingdom. We need to be the light in a dark world to point people to the true source of light: our King Jesus.

That is why we call ourselves Missio Dei. It means the Mission of God. God sent his son to seek and save the lost, the dying, those in the dark. As God sent the Son, he sends us to join him in the fields of the world so that we join him in sowing good seed and for the harvest at the end of the age to be great.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kingdom of God - Least v. Great in the Kingdom

Being called least versus great in the Kingdom of Heaven – Matt. 5.17-20
Have you ever read through the OT and came across some crazy, random rules or laws? Examples from Leviticus 19. Ever wonder if we still need to fully obey such laws? I get questions all the time, especially the one about the tattoos. We'll come back to this later...

In this passage, Jesus is talking about being called least in the kingdom versus being called great in the Kingdom. Of course we all would like to hopefully work toward becoming known as great in the kingdom of heaven so what are some of the things we should work towards to make this happen?

In the context of this passage, Jesus is about to set out to definitively interpret God’s Word. But before he begins, he wants everyone to know that he holds God’s word in the highest regard.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets…
When he says this, it was another way of saying, I have not come to “set aside” or “repeal” the Hebrew Bible (or OT). Saying “The Law and Prophets” was another way of referring to the whole of the OT.
Up until this point (and from this point going forward in his story) Jesus was accused of neglecting God’s Word, or specifically the Laws of the OT. He came under attack from the groups mentioned in verse 20 of this passage: the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law.
The Pharisees - Recognized as the supreme authority in religion the written Hebrew Scriptures (all of them) and the oral tradition (or what is referred to in this text as the tradition of the elders). They were strict adherents to the Law, not only the Torah but the expositions and traditions of the Law. More of a tendency to regard outward formalism as more important than inward disposition of the heart (at least according to the gospels and Acts).
The Teachers of the Law (or Scribes) - Their key role was a more careful theoretical development of the Law – the scribes counted a total of 613 commandments in the OT. They were made in general terms and needed to be made explicit and particular. For example: walking through a grain field had to be examined. When the wheat was ankle high not knee high it was not considered threshing. But if the wheat was knee high, kernels might be knocked loose and it would be considered threshing. If a cotton wadding which was worn in one’s ear fell out it could not be replaced for this would be considered lifting a burden. The scribes wanted to make sure they knew what constituted a law and not a law. These accumulations were what came to be known as the tradition of the elders. This oral tradition was transmitted orally until about 200 AD.
Why so zealous for the Law? Understandable? The greatest lesson learned during the exile was that they had neglected the Law of God to worship idols. So the Jews were committed to studying and obeying the Law completely. Idolatry was ended. Prophecy stopped, but scribes, the experts in copying, preserving and teaching the law, became the religious leaders.
These are the guys who constantly question Jesus’ zeal for the Law. Jesus does stuff on the Sabbath that they don’t think he should do (like heal people). He eats with people they would never eat with (like tax collectors and sinners). He touches people that make them unclean (like lepers and dead people). Jesus is about to give the people his interpretation of God’s word and wants everybody to know how much respect he has for God’s word. But he is going to show them how to properly understand God’s word. God’s word needs to be read in light of him. You cannot properly understand God’s word (and that includes the laws of the OT) without knowing Jesus.

The gospel story of Jesus also resolves or brings to completion the Story of Israel as found in the Scriptures (thus, the events of Jesus story occurred “according to the Scriptures”. The Story of Jesus Christ only makes sense as it follows and completes the Story of Israel. The gospel is the resolution and fulfillment of Israel’s Story and promises. The good news of this gospel is that Israel’s Story has now reached its resolution in Jesus Christ.

Jesus does not come to abolish the word of God. This means that he does not mean to set it aside or repeal it. It still is valid and binding on the believer. He goes on to say that not the smallest letter or least stroke of a pen will disappear until everything is accomplished. (Jot and tittle, what does that mean?) What he does say is that he has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. What he means by that is that he has come to bring Scripture to its intended goal.
Fulfillment of Scripture is Matthew’s theme through his gospel.
In chapter 1, Matthew connects Jesus to David, the line of the everlasting king.
1.22 – Jesus’ birth by a virgin is seen as fulfilling Scripture (Isaiah 7.14).
2.3-4 – Jesus’ being born in Bethlehem fulfills Scripture (Micah 5.2, 4).
2.15 – Jesus’ escape from Herod to Egypt (Jesus identifies with Israel who also spent years in Egypt).
2.17 – Herod’s destruction of the infants was seen as fulfilling Scripture (Jer. 31.15)
3.2 – John the Baptist’s ministry was seen as fulfilling Scripture (Isaiah 40.3)
4.1-11 – Jesus time of temptation in the wilderness was seen as a way of identifying with Israel’s time in the wilderness after being set free from slavery in Egypt. The people were tested in the wilderness and failed. However, Jesus represents faithful Israel as he does not give into the devil’s temptation in the desert.
4.14-16 – His early ministry in Galilee was seen fulfilling Scripture as well (Isaiah 9.1-2).
Jesus is affirming his undying respect for the OT, and he wants us to know that all of the OT remains normative and relevant for followers of Jesus. But…it needs to be understood in how it has been fulfilled in Christ. All OT texts need to be viewed in light of Jesus’ life and ministry.
What we are going to see is that at some points, Jesus brings many OT events and laws to their fulfillment (like the sacrificial system). The sacrificial system is no longer binding, but not because Jesus set it aside, but because he fulfilled the original intent of the sacrificial system. He became the perfect sacrifice to remove our guilt and sin from before God and through him we can have an unbroken, guilt free relationship with God.
At some points, the OT Scriptures remain quite valid, like love for God and love for our neighbor.
But how do we deal with some of the verses that just don’t seem so relevant to us today like the ones I mentioned? Jesus says that if we set aside one of the least of the commands of the Bible, we’ll be least in the kingdom.

When we look at how Jesus interprets Scripture in the following verses after our passage, we see that he begins with one of the Ten Commandments or a command from the Law and then interprets it. He starts with, “you have heard it said…”, then he says “but I say to you…” In none of the following verses does Jesus contradict the Law, but what he does is present the true meaning of the command. Do not commit adultery…but I say don’t look at a woman lustfully. Jesus gets beyond the mere outward form of the command; he penetrates directly to the heart.
So, far from destroying or setting aside the law (even in the cases where it looks like he is breaking the law like in the incidents we mentioned before), Jesus’ teachings penetrate to the divinely intended meaning of the Law. Because the Law and Prophets pointed to him and he is their goal, he is able now to reveal their true meaning and bring them to fulfillment.

Knowing this, let’s go back to some of those obscure laws I mentioned earlier. When we look beyond the mere literal meaning of the laws, we should look at the original intention of God for these laws.
Why not wear clothing of mixed material? This was a symbol of purity and wholeness. They were entering into a land where the people were dishonoring God and were worshiping false gods and their lifestyles were exceedingly wicked. A law like this was showing them to be concerned with wholeness and purity. It was, in a way, a reminder to not intermix with these people or intermarry with them. And a way of impressing this on the people’s minds was to call them to wholeness in every area of their lives, like their crops, their clothes, their animals…
They were not to cut their hair because often shaving their hair, and especially their beards were pagan mourning rites. The beard was a symbol of manhood and pride within Israel. Again, it was a symbol to be different from the people God was expelling from the land before them.
Tattoo marks were often brands for devotees of pagan gods. Don’t be like them. Be set apart. Show yourself to be worshiping a different, holy God.
When we look at the intended meaning of these laws, we can better understand them and apply them to our lives. God is calling us to be different. To be set apart. How do we distinguish ourselves from the non-believers that we are surrounded with? In our day, it is not necessarily in the way we dress, or having or not having tattoos, or with the food we eat. We distinguish ourselves from the non-believers around us by following Jesus.

So, who is least in the Kingdom? If you set aside the Scripture (and more importantly) it’s intended meaning by God, you will be least in the Kingdom. Jesus is affirming the validity of the OT, but if we continue reading, he helps us understand the intention behind the commands of the OT (and really the whole Bible). We need to read the commands of the Bible in light of Jesus being the king and being the ultimate fulfillment of God’s word.
To be great in the Kingdom is to understand this as well and to teach this to others. To be great in the Kingdom we need to teach the full word of God (especially in light of Jesus’ way of looking at it) and obey his word.

Our righteousness needs to surpass the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. What does that mean? The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees spent so much time wrapped up in a detailed study of the minutiae of the law. The Pharisees were the sect who attempted to fulfill the requirement of the Torah through an elaborate system that was based on ancient teachers who tried to explain its demands. They were more interested in how they could follow the Law (or find ways to make it convenient to follow the letter of the law) than they were in loving God and loving their neighbor. And when it comes right down to it that was the ultimate intention of all of the laws, to teach us how to properly worship God and serve our neighbors. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees kept the focus on the law and not God.

The righteousness that Jesus speaks of does not come through this great preoccupation with the trivial points of the Law that outdoes the Pharisees. Jesus is going to show a new and higher kind of righteousness that comes from understanding that he is the king and that he is the one who can authoritatively interpret God’s word. And Jesus is not going to just interpret the Word for us and tell us how to live, he is going to model it. His life will be a display of his understanding of God’s word. And our righteousness is God’s gift. It comes when we repent, and we are born of the Spirit. The Spirit’s presence enables us to properly follow Jesus. Following Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit is the way to righteousness that surpasses the Pharisees and teachers of the law who were seeking to justify themselves through their obedience to the law, not through a relationship with God.

When do we do these things? Can we become like the Pharisees in regard to the commands that we thing make us right with God? Whenever we put rules and commandments above following Jesus as ways to obtain favor with God, then we are pursuing the righteousness of the Pharisees and Scribes. I don’t know what that looks like for you. In my circle, I gain some sort of righteousness if I abstain from drinking alcohol.  It could be that you are relying on the fact that you don’t drink for a type of righteousness. It could be the fact that you don’t cuss or that you abstain from premarital sex. That is what gives you your right standing with God. For some of us it is involvement in Christian events like Bible studies and church attendance. It is like God owes you because you are serving him in these ways. All of these things I’ve mentioned can be helpful to you in your walk. But you should abstain from drinking only because you feel it makes you more like Jesus. You should avoid premarital sex because that is what is best for the kingdom of God. You should study your Bible and attend church as a way of getting to know the commands of Jesus and to corporately worship and fellowship with your brothers and sister in Christ. Those things don’t gain you points with God. They should be shaping you as a follower of Christ. Your righteousness comes as a free gift when you repent, commit to Jesus and receive his Spirit. His Spirit enables you to follow him, which is the command he gives us if we want to be a disciple of his (Luke 9.24).

Monday, October 3, 2011

Jesus' Message of the Kingdom

Jesus’ Message of the Kingdom

We’ve been looking at the Kingdom of God this semester. So far we did an overview of the concept, looking at it from the perspective of what a typical hearer of Jesus might have understood when he or she first heard Jesus announce that the Kingdom of God was near. We also looked at Jesus’ first words of his public ministry in the gospels of Matthew and Mark: “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” We also discussed how Jesus said we must enter the kingdom of God, that is we must be born from above/again and born of water and Spirit. Last week we looked at how the Kingdom of God starts small like a mustard seed or yeast in a big batch of flour: it seems to be insignificant yet grows beyond what seems to be its capabilities. This week we are going to look at the message of the Kingdom of God. What was the core of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God? In the book of Luke, Jesus begins his public ministry with a grand announcement that will frame how Luke characterizes Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God.

Luke 4:18-19

Context – Jesus himself had been baptized by John the Baptist as a sign that he was beginning a new phase of his life, his public ministry. Up until this point, he had lived a relatively obscure life. But now, he came out and was baptized, symbolizing new life (not repentance for forgiveness of sin) and his identification with the people of Israel. (Baptism and crossing the river?) God anointed him with his Spirit. In the OT, the Spirit would rest on people when God set them apart for a specific task. From this point on, we will see how Luke tells us constantly that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit. In 4.1, the Spirit led him into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil. (Here he continues to identify with Israel, just as they spent time in the desert and yet were unfaithful to God, Jesus spends time in the desert and remains faithful). This leads us to our verses today and the message of the Kingdom.

Read Luke 4.14-21.

Jesus must have drawn attention to himself because of his teaching and healing ministry. It seems that he had a teaching ministry in Galilee (northern Israel). On this occasion he reveals his true intentions, that is, his ministry is to fulfill Scripture.

The passage that he reads is from Isaiah 61.1-2 (with some allusion to 58.6). Read the passage in Isaiah. Here the speaker has been anointed with God’s Spirit to announce “good news.”

Isaiah is looking to a day in the future when the people of Israel would be greatly disciplined due to their lack of obedience. The southern kingdom of Israel, the kingdom of Judah, would be conquered and many of the citizens would be sent into exile. What Isaiah sees here is God’s message to those who have suffered through this time and are longing for release from their captivity.

The “poor” in Isaiah have the connotation of the faithful members of Israel who wait on God during times of great misfortune, like captivity and exile. This was a common metaphor for people in distress. Because, literally, the poor had no other advocate than God. The righteous and faithful poor people would rely on God for their provision and salvation. And here, the poor are those who have been sent into exile and captivity. It is very similar with the term “brokenhearted”. God is going to heal their wounds. When he proclaims freedom for the captive, he is promising release and freedom for those who will be in exile.

Jesus continues the theme from Isaiah by proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. Here both Isaiah and Jesus are talking about a concept that is found in the book of Leviticus 25 called the year of Jubilee.

In the Hebrew Bible, God had prescribed something called a “Sabbath year”. The Sabbath year had three basic provisions: the freeing of all slaves; the cancellation of all debts and leaving the fields fallow (or uncultivated) for the year. This was to take place every 7th year (that is what Sabbath literally means in Hebrew). After 7 Sabbath years there would be a Year of Jubilee which is the similar to the Sabbath year but all of the land reverts back to its original distribution under Moses when the Israelites first entered the land.

The primary spiritual basis for Sabbath years and for the Year of Jubilee was for the release of slaves, debts and the land. This was due because God himself was the owner of the land and the people. It was he who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt and he gave them the land, so neither they nor the land could ever truly be sold. It was given to God’s people to be good stewards of the land (or caretakers). The prophet Isaiah sees a day of release from captivity of the people of Israel in the future and he uses this Jubilee imagery.

This would have been in the minds of the people present at that synagogue when Jesus reads this passage and makes this pronouncement, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

What qualifies Jesus to make such a bold statement? He basically compares his teaching ministry to the Year of Jubilee, which is good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for those who are oppressed. How can he say such things? He can say such things because he is the king.

Now, did he look like the king they were expecting? No, not quite. We see this in John the Baptist. In one episode John is pointing at the one who is to follow him. The one following him is greater than John. John calls him the “lamb of God” who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus will baptize with the Spirit. John must decrease and Jesus must increase in importance. John helps Jesus inaugurate his ministry with his baptism, and then Jesus sets out healing people of diseases, feeding the hungry masses, spending time with sinners, casting demons out of people who were oppressed by Satan. John is thinking, where is your army, king? When is the revolt going to start? When are you going to defeat the pagan, ungodly people who are ruling God’s land right now?

John the Baptist angers the king of the region (a man named Herod Antipas). He gets thrown in prison. That is not supposed to happen to the man who announces the king’s arrival as John did. He starts to have questions. Jesus is not acting like the king John was expecting. John sends his own disciples to question Jesus.

Luke 7:20- Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?

Jesus’ reply would surprise us at first, but when we examine the Hebrew Scriptures, these were the things that the King was supposed to be doing:

Luke 7:22 – Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Isaiah saw a day in the future when God would visit his people. On that day,

Isaiah 35.5 – then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer… and we’ve already seen Isaiah proclaim that the good news will be proclaimed to the poor in Is. 61.1-2.

These are the kind of things that will take place when God himself (the King) visits his people. Jesus reads the resume of the king and points to the very things he was doing.

So, how did Jesus display this “good news” in his life and ministry?

We’ll come back to the poor…

When he proclaims freedom for the prisoners, we probably shouldn't see freedom for criminals who have been justly imprisoned, but more likely in context those who have been jailed for their unpaid debts. In Jesus’ world, that was a very real possibility. They did not have the economic mobility that we have today (and even today, it has been shrinking in our sluggish economy). Someone could get into debt and would be jailed until their family paid their debt or they entered into an agreement to become a slave to the one you owe money to. There is a connection between forgiveness of sin and forgiveness of debt. Debt almost becomes a metaphor for sin. To forgive sin is compared to forgiving debt. This can potentially release someone from literal prison (in the case of monetary debt) and release from bondage (in the case of forgiveness of sin).

Luke 11.4 (in Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer) he says we should pray for God to forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. If Jesus can spread a message of forgiveness of sin it should extend to the debts that people owe us, especially if those debts came about due to unlawful exploitation of poor people (unreasonable interest rates, etc.).

Jesus’ message is good news because it means recovery of sight for the blind. This is probably referring to his healing ministry on one level, we see him healing people of many illnesses and disabilities but on another level he could be discussing spiritual sight versus spiritual blindness. In Matthew 23, Jesus criticizes the spiritual elite who thought they were honored by God due to their spiritual insight by calling them “blind guides”. And in John’s gospel Jesus heals a blind man but gives it deeper meaning in that he is allowing the people who are humble enough to accept him and his radical message to truly see in a spiritual sense. And those who are not humble enough to submit to him (the spiritual elite, the Pharisees), those who would never admit to spiritual blindness in themselves are the truly blind. They cannot see that they are guilty of sin. The blind man came to Jesus in humility risked being cast out of the community by making a profession of faith in Jesus. Because of his humility, he has received literal sight and spiritual sight as well. The sighted Pharisees were not humble, did not see their need for humility before Jesus remained spiritually blind. Jesus gives literal sight to the blind and spiritual sight to those who are humble enough to receive it.

Set the oppressed free – as we have been discussing all along, the people were expecting of the dawning of the Kingdom of God that God (or his messiah) would conquer all of Israel’s foes and rule from his throne in Jerusalem. The people of Israel of Jesus’ day were under occupation. The Romans were in charge. It was incomprehensible that a pagan government would be allowed to rule over God’s people. They were expecting deliverance. They were the oppressed and were longing for freedom (which they would fight for on several occasions). For Jesus, however, that day would lie in the future but the freedom for the oppressed that he was offering was freedom from the oppression of our sin and Satan.

When discussing our oppression due to sin, Jesus called it slavery and offered freedom.

Jesus’ healing ministry – Acts 10:38 – Peter discusses how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

This may have shown itself in illness – Jesus offers freedom to a woman who had been tormented by disease by stating:

Luke 13:12, 16 – Woman, you are set free from your infirmity…Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

Those are drastic examples, but all of us who have sinned are in some ways slaves. Jesus discusses this John 8:34-36 - 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

When we submit to Jesus, he gives us his presence in form of the power of the Holy Spirit. This enables us to overcome our sin and live lives pleasing to God. We could not do that before we submitted to Christ.

Let us come back to the issue of Jesus proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jubilee – Why did God give his people this concept in the first place? Jubilee was to ensure that there was an equitable distribution of the land to prevent accumulation of ownership in the hands of a few. We have to be reminded that God owns not only the land but all of our resources. He allows us to be his stewards of his property.

Lev. 25.23 – The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. And not only that,

Psalm 24.1 – The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.

[God put rules in place to make sure that sold land could be redeemed by the seller’s family that is, bought back. This was out of concern for a family, or an extended family like a clan. This kind of policy can help break the cycle of poverty and restore dignity to a family.]

The concept of Sabbath year and year of Jubilee taught God’s people faith in his sovereignty and provision (the fallow year, allowing God to provide). It also taught forgiveness, to forgive debts. To understand that you have been forgiven by God means that you need to seek practical ways to demonstrate that forgiveness. It this concept it was the forgiveness of debts and releasing slaves from bondage. That is an easy to apply message to us today, for us to think about Jubilee requires that we face the Sovereignty of God, trust in his provision, know his redeeming action, experience reconciliation and practice these things toward others.

How Jesus message can be good news to the poor? So much of Jesus’ message was directed to the poor, both spiritually and materially. This came back to me when I was teaching on Matt. 6 about not worrying about what we will eat or wear because our Father cares for us. We are called to seek first the kingdom (and we will discuss that soon) and all these things (provision) will be given to us as well. The problem comes about when we realize that there have been believers who have gone without food and clothing. They are around the world and in our community. So, isn’t this verse untrue for them? How do we reconcile Jesus’ teaching about our “needs” being met, when there are some who have gone without?

Perhaps when God’s people, like us, corporately seek first his priorities, we will by definition take care of the needy in their fellowship. When we consider that a substantial majority of believers in our world live below the “poverty line”, shouldn’t that challenge us who have “great wealth”?

Craig Blomberg – “Without a doubt, most individual and church budgets need drastic realignment in terms of what Christians spend on themselves versus what they spend on others.

Deut. 15.4-5 – there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance; he will richly bless you if you fully obey him…

We see how the early church lived this out

Acts 4.32-34 - …No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had…God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

What we need to do is figure out how to do this. As we proclaim the good news, we need to remember the poor and help make the message of Jesus good news to them as we display the generosity that was shown to us.